34081 92 Squadron

34081 92 Squadron at Orton Mere on the Nene Valley Railway - June 2017.jpg

34081, was released to traffic in 1948 and was allocated to Ramsgate as its first shed. Here it hauled many prestigious expresses such as the Thanet Belle, The Man of Kent, Night Ferry and the Golden Arrow as well as on more mundane commuter trains. It was originally painted in malachite green with three yellow stripes but no name plates. Most of the class ran for several months (sometimes years) before being named.

In 1950, 34081 was repainted into Brunswick Green at Brighton Works and had its name plates affixed for the first time though it never had an official naming ceremony. The name of 92 Squadron is after the famous Spitfire Squadron that was based at Biggin Hill in Kent from where took part in the Battle of Britain in the skies above Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

In September 1957 the locomotive was transferred to Exmouth Junction shed with around 165,000 miles to its credit, where it was used on services to North Devon and Cornwall, including the famous Atlantic Coast Express, as well as to London.

Seven years later, in June 1964, 34081 was moved to Eastleigh shed where it worked for a short while on the Bournemouth line. In August of that year it was withdrawn from service having completed 741,511 miles whilst in service.

In April 1965 it was taken in convoy with 34058, 34067 and 34073 to Woodham Brothers scrap yard at Barry, by 34006. Of these locomotives, only 34006 was scrapped – all the others survived.

In 1973 the Battle of Britain Locomotive Preservation Society (as it was then called) was formed and in 1976 purchased 34081 for £3,500 plus 10% VAT. The locomotive left Barry scrapyard in November 1976. The tender acquired was from 34028 Eddystone (now restored and running on the Swanage Railway in rebuilt form) and was built at Ashford works circa late 1945. In 1976 34081 departed from Barry on low loader and arrived at the Peterborough factory of British Sugar the following day where it was unloaded into their St Botolph’s sidings. It was originally planned to restore 34081 at the Dean Forest Railway, but negotiations broke down and the request to overhaul it at the Nene Valley was made. The locomotive was dragged by a Barclay 0-4-0ST shunter to Wansford and had to traverse a short section of the Fletton Loop to access the Nene Valley Railways (NVR) from St Botolph’s Sidings to the NVR at Orton Mere.

In January 1978 in thick snow, the boiler was lifted out. Found to be in excellent condition and only needing a thorough clean out, a full set of new tubes, superheater elements and injectors, which were bundled together as a bulk purchase with those for 34072, 257 Squadron. The oil bath sump was also sold to 34072 to enable them to restore it by their anniversary deadline in 1990, with a new one made later for 34081.

The driving wheels were sent to Swindon in 1982 for axle box refurbishment and for new tyres to be made. (British Steel had to make 13 tyres before getting 6 accurate enough to make a full set). With all non ferrous items having been removed at Barry, new ones had to be made and the Society was kept busy sourcing drawings. A spare set of coupling rods were purchased from the Mid Hants Railway which had originally been fitted to 21C102 Salisbury.

New Connecting Rods were forged by John Hesketh & Sons of Bury in 1989, and machined by North West engineering for £12,000. The original 1.24 inch pitch chains for the valve gear were no longer made in that size, so 1.00 inch chain had to be utilised, which also necessitated manufacturing new sprockets.

In 1990 the driving wheels were removed again as the BR mechanical inspector reported that there was too much of a gap fore and aft, and that it was not acceptable, especially if it was planned to run on the main line in the future. It had been assumed that Swindon knew the correct measurements and had the necessary skills. The drag box was refurbished at Wolverton works.

The driving wheels reunited with the frames, again a year later. As there is no wheel drop facility at Wansford, the locomotive was lifted (by the steam crane) by its front end some eleven feet from the ground to enable the wheel sets to be rolled in underneath.

1997 saw the first static steam test on the boiler completed. But later that year thieves stole many of the non ferrous fittings from the store. The total replacement value was £6,250 and the inaugural first steaming was delayed because of this. However, thanks to the generosity of fellow Bulleid owners loaning parts whilst new ones were made, 34081 was able to commence trial running in March 1998 when the locomotive moved under its own steam again. Later that year it began revenue earning work on the Nene Valley Railway.

The estimated total cost of restoration was £130,000 – £150,000. If the value of volunteer labour is taken in to account, the total would be in excess of £250,000.

From re-entering traffic in March 1998 until the late summer of 2003, 34081 was a mainstay of the NVR locomotive fleet. Following a very successful visit to the Bluebell Railway in 1998, it returned to the Nene Valley and was fitted with air brake control gear and operated the NVR Santa Specials.

The 1999 season saw it run exclusively on the NVR but in the following years 34081 visited a number of other heritage railways.

In 2003 34081 was withdrawn from traffic with leaking firebox stays. It was moved to Chatham Steam in Kent for major repairs which were successfully completed.

In 2008 after further visits to the Bluebell Railway it failed a much delayed boiler inspection and after a long discussion with the boiler inspector it was evident that a simple stay replacement would not have satisfied his concerns.

In 2010 the Battle of Britain Locomotive Society and the Nene Valley Railway signed an agreement that saw 34081 return to Wansford for the overhaul to take place.

The boiler was sent away for a professional overhaul and was returned to Wansford in late 2013. While it was away the locomotive was dismantled and mechanical jobs undertaken. Following dismantling, components were cleaned and refurbished and reassembly commenced. Attention was also given to the refurbishment of the tender.

The locomotive is owned by the Battle of Britain Locomotive Society and was last overhauled at Wansford on the Nene Valley Railway. The overhaul of the boiler cost £215,000 and was the last one undertaken by Chetham Steam before that business was sold and moved to the North Norfolk Railway.

It passed its steam test in June 2015 and by July 2016 the air-smoothed casing was being assembled and painted.

In December 2016 moved again under its own steam during a trial at Wansford prior to being steam tested fully in January.  The overhaul has taken six years to complete and cost around £280,000.

After passing its insurance examination in January 2017, 34081 returned to traffic in the following month and it will be contracted to run for five years of its boiler certificate on the Nene Valley Railway.

Home Base Current Status Owner
Nene Valley Railway Operational Battle of Britain Locomotive Society
34081 at Wansford-2014.jpg 34081 92 Squadron under overhaul at Wansford on the Nene Valley Railway-2014
34081 92 Squadron-Wansford-2017.jpg 34081 92 Squadron at Wansford on the Nene Valley Railway-2017
34081 92 Squadron at Orton Mere on the Nene Valley Railway - June 2017.jpg 34081 92 Squadron at Orton Mere on the Nene Valley Railway – June 2017

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